| Pakistan’s Rehan Butt manoeuvres past India goalkeeper Deven Chauhan to score the winning goal in Amstelveen on Sunday. On the right is Viren Rasquinha. (AFP)
Amstelveen: The glory of scoring seven against Pakistan is history. India will return home with the gloom of going down to arch-rivals when it mattered most, in the third place play-off at the Champions Trophy on Sunday.
Unable to work the magic that saw them through on Friday, India went down 3-4 in a bitterly contested match.
It was a repeat of the last edition when the Indians went down by the same margin in the third place play-off in Cologne.
However, the Indians held their heads high even in defeat playing some really good hockey. And had it not been for a couple of missed chances, things could have been so different.
India squandered the lead thrice before conceding a goal with less than two minutes to go for the final hooter.
Full-back Sohail Abbas yet again proved to be Pakistan’s saviour with two penalty corner conversions (30th, 61st), while Kashif Jawad (42nd) and Rehan Butt (68th) contributed to the tally.
For India, Jugraj Singh (26th), Prabhjot Singh (35th) and Deepak Thakur (48th) were on target.
The packed Wagener stadium was again treated to some scintillating hockey, but the sheer thrill of Friday when Indian won 7-4 was missing.
The match was a cat-and-mouse affair for much of the first half as neither team was prepared to take the slightest risk.
India looked a more settled side and rotated the ball quite well. In fact, the patience they showed was quite remarkable as they waited for a breakthrough.
The Indians did come up with a couple of dangerous runs down the flanks, but the Pakistani defence strong against the onslaught. However, they conceded a penalty stroke when Gagan Ajit Singh was stick-checked, and Jugraj converted.
Pakistan, on the other hand, pitched their hopes on the forwardline, but with the Indian marking spot-on, they failed to make much of a leeway. However, on a couple of occasions the nippy Kashif Jawad managed to get into the circle, but Indian ’keeper Devesh Chauhan stood strong.
But in the 30th minute, a right-wing move by Pakistan resulted in their second penalty corner, and Abbas found the net with a clever piece of improvisation.
The Indians came good at the stroke of half-time when Thakur centred one to Gagan Ajit whose reverse hit was deflected into the board by the lurking Prabhjot.
On restart, Pakistan showed the urgency that was missing in the first session, and drew level with the first penalty corner they forced. Chauhan did well to block Abbas’ drag flick, but Jawad was at hand to flick home the ball.
Six minutes later, India again took the lead following a two-touch counter-attack. Centre-half Bimal Lakra found Dhillon with a long ball, whose reverse hit was deflected in by Thakur.
Thereafter, the Indians maintained pressure, but the Pakistan defence was upto it. The fact that they did not concede even a single penalty corner is a pointer to their performance.
Meanwhile, Pakistan were intent on forcing penalty corners, but Abbas had a tough time converting them with Chauhan and charger Jugraj, who took a few painful blows on his legs, repeatedly foiled him.
But Abbas had the last laugh when he beat the defensive barrier from the ninth penalty corner to make it 3-3.
This was followed by a period of exciting goalmouth skirmishes as Prabhjot had two good tries, the first coming off the post and then goalkeeper Ahmed Alam deflecting the attempt off the rebound. Chauhan was then called upon to make a couple of saves as an extra-time appeared imminent.
But Pakistan sealed things minutes from the close when Butt followed up on a Wasim Ahmed pass to flick past Chauhan.
The Indians were hampered by the absence of key midfielders Ignace Tirkey and Baljit Singh Saini, both suffering injuries during the Friday’s game.
Under-fire Indian coach Rajinder Singh put the blame on his players for the defeat to Pakistan and said the team committed harakiri by missing as many as eight gilt-edged chances.
“The statistics say that we missed eight chances, and at this level, these are far too many,” a grim looking Rajinder said after India’s hopes of even finishing with a bronze in the event were dashed by their arch-rivals. “This (missed chances) is something we need to work on urgently as we prepare for the 2004 Olympics,” the coach said.
“We need to improve on our midfield play and also finishing ability,” said Rajinder, while also pointing out that the absence of Baljit Singh Saini (fractured nose) and Ignace Tirkey (knee injury), also considerably weakened the half-line.”